Control raj in China | Business Line

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Jinping may expand oversight over business



November 5, 2017:  

When China set off on its path of economic liberalisation towards freer markets about 1980, it chose to retain its communist one-party system and tight political control. The Soviet Union did not choose this model when it began to unravel about 1990 and paid a heavy price for it. The Chinese model looks even wiser in hindsight as it has maintained enviable economic growth and navigated the country to second place, after the US, in Gross National Income.

Most observers believed it was only a matter of time before China would also loosen political control and allow its people more freedom in the area of speech, access to information, and political organising. The recently concluded party proved otherwise. The reappointed president, Xi Jinping, has made it clear that he is a party man and the party will extend its reach and discipline.

Driving the dream

Jinping has said that the Communist Party will have a prime place in the pursuit of his ‘China Dream’ of national rejuvenation, calling it a ‘new era’ in his speech. The Chinese have always had a strong sense of nationalism. Their response to buying things of Japanese and South Korean origin waxed and waned in keeping with how well their government thought of those countries. Most recently, the government angered by South Korea deploying a US missile system turned on public outrage leading to a boycott of South Korean products. Now, the party is firmly in the driver’s seat.

The party is estimated to have 89 million members and was generally considered a preferred track for the ambitious. Now, there are going to be required study sessions for party members of Jinping’s speech. They are going to revive the practice of members criticising each other and themselves. (This practice under Mao had children criticising their parents and teachers and sending them to re-education centres.) Membership dues based on a person’s salary are being adjusted and collected retroactively.

Party-speak

Public organisations have a party official ensconced in high office with a say in important personnel decisions. Now, an old rule that any organisation with three or more party members should set up a party cell is being enforced. The party’s influence extends to the private sector. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that multinationals operating in China have party committees. Party consultants help private companies integrate party work.

Control of speech is going to come under tighter regulation. Online groups are closely watched and now punishment for ‘spreading rumours’ is being raised. The chat leader is going to be made responsible. The government which would like greater control in IT businesses like Alibaba, Tencent, and Weibo is said to be eyeing a small share of their equity. This will put it directly in conflict with US policies where the Committee on Foreign Investment has taken a dim view of Chinese companies seen to be connected to the government and refused them permission to acquire US companies.

‘Comrades’ Zuckerberg, Cook and Nadella were at the Great Hall of the People to personally congratulate Jinping. They will have tough choices to make in the coming days.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston

(This article was published on November 5, 2017)

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